Festive review: Leslie Odom Jr / Megan Hilty / Eyles & Gould / All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride

“Its simple truth speaks volumes in a world where hatred rages”

Following on from the re-release of his self-titled album earlier this year, Leslie Odom Jr gives us another opportunity to sink into his world of soulful jazz with an album of reinterpreted holiday classics in Simply Christmas on S-Curve Records. And I do mean sink into like the most comfortable sofa you can imagine, in front of a log fire and drinking a nice cup of Charbonnel and Walker, for this is rich and luxurious stuff – as evidenced halfway into opening track ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ when a softly funky breakdown envelops you in its warmth like a marshmallow on top of that hot chocolate.

Dangerously seductive in Hamilton, Odom Jr will lose precisely zero fans here with this lush yet restrained style. Arrangements are kept simple, allowing heartfelt vocals to imbue tracks like ‘The First Noel’ and ‘The Christmas Song’ with renewed life. Equally, the piano and vocal improvs in ‘My Favourite Things’ keep things utterly fresh without losing sight of the overall vision of the record. The gentle guitar accompaniment to The Carpenters’ ‘Merry Christmas Darling’ is a thing of loveliness and Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s new festive standard ‘Winter Song’ blooms gorgeously under the treatment.  Continue reading “Festive review: Leslie Odom Jr / Megan Hilty / Eyles & Gould / All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride”

Review: Groundhog Day, Old Vic

“I have not a bad word to say, 
about small towns. Per se.”

Expectations were high, how could they not be. Following on from the extraordinary success of Matilda, Tim Minchin’s next foray into musical theatre was to an adaptation of the 90s movie Groundhog Day, playing a two month run at the Old Vic ahead of a presumed Broadway transfer (a move that has had a little doubt cast on it by the withdrawal of major producer Scott Rudin). Now full disclosure, I saw it in its first week thanks to the PWC £10 tickets and the show went for a full month of previews before officially opening, so feel free to take my opinion with a pinch of salt.

For I did not enjoy Groundhog Day, at all. Worse than that, I was bored by it – at least hating something rouses some form of passion, but as Danny Rubin’s book cycled round and round and Minchin’s not unpleasant but in no way striking score dissipated into the ether, I wondered if Rudin might not have had the right idea. There’s a stellar performance from US import Andy Karl as the central Phil, carved out of that leading man material that is particularly American, but for me there was just too little magic emanating from Matthew Warchus’ direction to elevate the material.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th September

CD Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)

“All along knowing that no-one has returned to care”

Barely managing six months in the West End in 2013/4, I think it’s fair to say the musical adaptation of From Here to Eternity underwhelmed. And though I was reasonably fair to it at the time, I can’t say that it has aged well, upon returning the live cast recording that was made before the final curtain fell, blame seeming to fall evenly between composer Stuart Brayson, lyricist Tim Rice and book writer Bill Oakes. 
And with weaknesses on all sides like this, very much exposed in the medium of record, it’s not too hard to see why the show didn’t achieve anywhere near the levels of success it was aiming for. There’s so little sense of the main thrust of the story coming through, or indeed any of the strands put forward being sufficiently developed, to make you care about any of the relationships or the plight of the men. 
Oakes’ book moves inconsistently around all of them and Brayson’s score does little to provide any covering connective tissue. His musical influences pull from too broad a canvas to provide aural cohesion and far too few of the songs are focused on advancing narrative – the coupling of Warden and Karen (whose surf-soaked bodies provide the iconic image) are given hardly any musical time together, quite Darius Campbell and Rebecca Thornhill are meant to do to generate chemistry in solo numbers is beyond me. 
Robert Lonsdale and Siubhan Harrison as the other couple fare a little better but again, are more apart than together musically. What we’re left with is a grab-bag of tunes, barely scratching the surface of anything, least of all the men of G Company whose tragic fate ends up feeling like divine retribution for being horrific human beings. There’s undoubtedly some halfway striking musical moments – the startling melody of ‘Thirty Year Man’ provides real interest, Ryan Sampson’s sardonic ‘I Love The Army’ threatens to show some character but all in all, it’s little surprise we’ve gone from here to obscurity.

Album Review: As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould

“There’s still music in the air…”

As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould is a new album showcasing the new musical theatre writing partnership of composer Eyles and lyricist Gould. Gould has been a prolific writer for some time now, as evidenced on his last CD Words Shared With Friends and whilst Eyles may be a newer composer, the pair have clearly found a rich vein of collaboration. The album features songs from two Eyles & Gould musicals – Stiles + Drewe Award finalist A Pebble for Aaron and The Wonderful Musician, a new musical-in-development based on the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale, with a smattering of other songs too to complete the collection. 

The brace of songs from The Wonderful Musician are both strong – Joe Sterling capturing a beautiful sense of optimistic innocence in the title track and Michael Riseley and Kayleigh McKnight soaring on ‘Perfect Companion’. But it’s the trio of tunes from A Pebble for Aaron that stand out. Kieran Brown’s reflective ‘The Flowers Have Faded’, the raw anger of Keith Ramsay’s ‘I Want You To See You’ and the aching pain of Shaun McCourt’s ‘Losing Him’ are point towards a richly emotional and poignant musical that is touching even in these brief excerpts here. The marriage of longing melody and lyrical meaning works superbly well here.  Continue reading “Album Review: As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould”

Review: Starting Here Starting Now, Pheasantry

“What’s my life been lived for, if it never comes”

Just a quickie for this first of two Maltby and Shire revues taking place at the Pheasantry. Next week sees Closer Than Ever but first up is Starting Here, Starting Now, celebrating its 40th anniversary with this production by Neil Eckersley. The American pairing of composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby Jr have had a long and fruitful career and this show, first seen in 1976, collected together a swathe of songs from the early part of their career, numbers that didn’t necessarily make it into their bigger shows or indeed into the limelight.

Which means that they aren’t always the most striking snippets of musical theatre in miniature. Granted, the majority are character studies, pieces of emotional minidramas, but as a selection box of songs, they don’t add up to a huge deal, their style is naturally somewhat old-fashioned and so it was hard to get too excited. What did raise the pulse was the musicianship on show – Sam Lupton, Carolyn Maitland, and Kayleigh McKnight all impressed whether in solo, duet or altogether under Kris Rawlinson’s taut musical direction. More of a curio than a must-see.

Booking until 20th April

Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre with TodayTix

“I’ll do my dance, I’ll make them drink”
 

I’m pretty there’s a clause in the gay contract that means it is illegal to turn down the offer of drinks in the Julie Andrews room so who was I to resist when the folks at TodayTix invited me to try out their mobile ticketing app by coming along to see Miss Saigon. Founders Merritt Baer and Brian Fenty have had big success on Broadway with their service, offering tickets for a range of shows one week to one hour before showtime and boasting of enabling tickets to be purchased in 30 seconds or less.

And I have to say that they’ve pretty much nailed it. The interface of the app is bright and easy to use (certainly it was on my iPhone6), there’s a wide range of West End shows available and the process of choosing and booking tickets at all price levels is simple and speedy with a little seatmap showing you where in the theatre your selected seats are. It really does streamline the ticket-buying process so that making any last minute decisions to see a show that much easier. Continue reading “Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre with TodayTix”

Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre

“Why God? Why today?” 

I wasn’t the hugest fan of Miss Saigon first time round as my review from then clearly attests but I’m never one to be entirely closed-minded (though it may not often seem that way…) so when the opportunity to take a friend who had not previously been popped up, I made a return visit to the Prince Edward Theatre. The show is still basking in the glow of recently winning 9 What’s On Stage awards and it is clear that it is attracting a younger and atypically passionate crowd (for a West End show at least). 

That passion cuts both ways though as the overexcited group behind us couldn’t hold back from the flash photography and the young woman in front of me was less enthused than the rest of her party and spent most of the show on Facebook. It makes for a different kind of theatre experience when you’re having to do battle with that kind of behaviour but given my continued lack of engagement with the storyline of this particular musical theatre behemoth, it was as much a distraction for me as anything.  Continue reading “Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre”

2014 BroadwayWorld UK Awards – Winners’ list

Best Choreography in a New Production of a Musical
WINNER – Bob Avian & Geoffrey Garratt – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Peter Darling – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Gary Lloyd – 20th Century Boy – The Grand Wolverhampton
Ann Yea – Urinetown – St James

Best Costume Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
WINNER – Andreane Neofitou – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Rae Smith – The Light Princess – National Theatre
Soutra Gilmour – Urinetown – St James Theatre
David Shields – Sister Act – Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Best Direction of a New Production of a Musical
WINNER – Laurence Connor – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Matt Ryan – Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse
Jamie Lloyd – Urinetown – St Jamess
Paul Kerryson – Chicago – Curve Leicester

Best Direction of a New production of a Play
WINNER – Yael Farber – The Crucible – The Old Vic
Declan Donnellan – Shakespeare in Love – Noel Coward Theatre
Jamie Lloyd – Richard III – Trafalgar Studios
Daniel Evans – The Full Monty – Noel Coward

Best Featured Actor in a New Production of a Musical
WINNER – Kwang-Ho Hong – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Hugh Maynard – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward, London
Matthew Barrow – Chicago – Curve Leicester
Adam Pearce – Urinetown – St. James Theatre

Best Featured Actor in a New Production of a Play
WINNER – Adrian Schiller – The Crucible – Old Vic Theatre
David Oakes – Shakespeare In Love – Noel Coward Theatre
Bill Nighy – Skylight – Wyndhams
Andrew Scott – Birdland – Royal Court

Best Featured Actress in a New Production of a Musical
WINNER – Rachelle Ann Go – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Rebecca Trehearn – Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse
Jenna Russell – Urinetown – St. James Theatre
Zizi Strallen – Hairspray – Leicester Curve

Best Featured Actress in a New Production of a Play
WINNER – Samantha Colley – The Crucible – Old Vic
Angela Lansbury – Blithe Spirit – Gielgud
Anna Carteret – Shakespeare in Love – Noel Coward Theatre
Carey Mulligan – Skylight – Wyndhams

Best Leading Actor in a New Production of a Musical
WINNER – Jon Jon Briones – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward, London
Richard Fleeshman – Urinetown – St. James Theatre
Jamie Muscato – Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse
Warren Sollars – 20th Century Boy – Wimbledon

Best Leading Actor in A New Production of a Play
WINNER – Richard Armitage – The Crucible – Old Vic Theatre
Martin Freeman – Richard III – Trafalgar Studios
Daniel Radcliffe – Cripple of Inishmann – Noel coward
Tom Bateman – Shakespeare In Love – Noel Coward

Best Leading Actress in a New Production of a Musical
WINNER – Eva Noblezada – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Rosalie Craig – The Light Princess – National Theatre
Lucie Mae Sumner – Avenue Q – UK Tour
Jodie Prenger – Calamity Jane – Watermill Theatre

Best Leading Actress in a New Production of a Play
WINNER – Anna Madeley – The Crucible – Old Vic
Angela Lansbury – Blithe Spirit – Gielgud
WINNER – Gillian Anderson – A Streetcar Named Desire – The Young Vic
Billie Piper – Great Britain – National Theatre

Best Lighting Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
WINNER – Charles Balfour – Richard III – Trafalgar Studio
Adam Silverman – Urinetown – St James Theatre
Paule Constable – The Light Princess – National Theatre
Grant Anderson – The Addams Family – Assembly Hall (Edinburgh)

Best Long-Running Show in the West End
WINNER – Les Miserables – Queens Theatre
Wicked – Apollo Victoria
Phantom of the Opera – Her Majesty’s Theatre
Matilda – Cambridge Theatre

Best Musical Direction (Fringe or regional)
WINNER – George Dyer – Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse
John Donovan – Singin’ In The Rain – UK Tour
Ben Atkinson – Chicago – Leicester Curve
Zach Flis/Joanne Ho – The Addams Family – Assembly Hall (Edinburgh)

Best Musical Direction (West End)
WINNER – Alfonso Casado Trigo – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Richard John – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Savoy
Martin Lowe – The Light Princess – National Theatre
Alan Williams – Urinetown – St. James Theatre

Best New Musical in the West End
WINNER – Urinetown – St James Theatre
I Can’t Sing! – London Palladium
The Light Princess – National Theatre
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Savoy Theatre

Best New Play
WINNER – Shakespeare In Love – Noel Coward Theatre
Let the Right One In – Apollo
1984 – Headlong/Almeida / Playhouse Theatre
Great Britain – National Theatre

Best New Production of a Musical (Fringe/Regions)
WINNER – 20th Century Boy – UK tour
Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse
Happy Days – UK tour
Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead Theatre

Best Performance in a Long-Running West End show
WINNER – Carrie Hope Fletcher – Les Miserables – Queens Theatre
Gavin Creel – The Book of Mormon – Prince of Wales
Willemjin Verkaik – Wicked – Apollo Victoria Theatre
Rebecca Lock – Mamma Mia – Novello

Best Scenic Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
WINNER – Totie Driver, Matt Kinley & Adrian Vaux – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Soutra Gilmour – Richard III – Trafalgar Studios
Soutra Gilmour – Urinetown – St James Theatre
Rae Smith – The Light Princess – National Theatre

Best Sound Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
WINNER – Mick Potter – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Richard Hammarton – The Crucible – The Old Vic
Terry Jardine/Nick Lidster – Urinetown – St James Theatre
Tom Gibbons – 1984 – Headlong/Almeida/ Playhouse Theatre

Theatrical Event of the Year
WINNER – West End Live – Trafalgar Square
50 Years on Stage (National Theatre) – Various Theatres
Les Mis V Phantom Charity Football Match – Bromley FC
Kerry Ellis’s return to Wicked – Apollo Victoria

Theatrical Venue of the Year
WINNER – Southwark Playhouse
Donmar Warehouse
Leicester Curve Theatre
Edinburgh Playhouse

Understudy of the Year in any production of a Play or Musical
WINNER – Carolyn Maitland – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Marc Antolin – From Here to Eternity – Shaftesbury
Emma Hatton – Wicked – Apollo Victoria theatre
Niall Sheehy – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre

2014 BroadwayWorld UK Awards Shortlist

Best Choreography in a New Production of a Musical
Bob Avian & Geoffrey Garratt – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Peter Darling – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Gary Lloyd – 20th Century Boy – The Grand Wolverhampton
Ann Yea – Urinetown – St James

Best Costume Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Andreane Neofitou – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Rae Smith – The Light Princess – National Theatre
Soutra Gilmour – Urinetown – St James Theatre
David Shields – Sister Act – Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Best Direction of a New Production of a Musical
Laurence Connor – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Matt Ryan – Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse
Jamie Lloyd – Urinetown – St Jamess
Paul Kerryson – Chicago – Curve Leicester

Best Direction of a New production of a Play
Yael Farber – The Crucible – The Old Vic
Declan Donnellan – Shakespeare in Love – Noel Coward Theatre
Jamie Lloyd – Richard III – Trafalgar Studios
Daniel Evans – The Full Monty – Noel Coward

Best Featured Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Kwang-Ho Hong – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Hugh Maynard – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward, London
Matthew Barrow – Chicago – Curve Leicester
Adam Pearce – Urinetown – St. James Theatre

Best Featured Actor in a New Production of a Play
Adrian Schiller – The Crucible – Old Vic Theatre
David Oakes – Shakespeare In Love – Noel Coward Theatre
Bill Nighy – Skylight – Wyndhams
Andrew Scott – Birdland – Royal Court

Best Featured Actress in a New Production of a Musical
Rachelle Ann Go – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Rebecca Trehearn – Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse
Jenna Russell – Urinetown – St. James Theatre
Zizi Strallen – Hairspray – Leicester Curve

Best Featured Actress in a New Production of a Play
Samantha Colley – The Crucible – Old Vic
Angela Lansbury – Blithe Spirit – Gielgud
Anna Carteret – Shakespeare in Love – Noel Coward Theatre
Carey Mulligan – Skylight – Wyndhams

Best Leading Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Jon Jon Briones – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward, London
Richard Fleeshman – Urinetown – St. James Theatre
Jamie Muscato – Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse
Warren Sollars – 20th Century Boy – Wimbledon

Best Leading Actor in A New Production of a Play
Richard Armitage – The Crucible – Old Vic Theatre
Martin Freeman – Richard III – Trafalgar Studios
Daniel Radcliffe – Cripple of Inishmann – Noel coward
Tom Bateman – Shakespeare In Love – Noel Coward

Best Leading Actress in a New Production of a Musical
Eva Noblezada – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Rosalie Craig – The Light Princess – National Theatre
Lucie Mae Sumner – Avenue Q – UK Tour
Jodie Prenger – Calamity Jane – Watermill Theatre

Best Leading Actress in a New Production of a Play
Anna Madeley – The Crucible – Old Vic
Angela Lansbury – Blithe Spirit – Gielgud
Gillian Anderson – A Streetcar Named Desire – The Young Vic
Billie Piper – Great Britain – National Theatre

Best Lighting Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Charles Balfour – Richard III – Trafalgar Studio
Adam Silverman – Urinetown – St James Theatre
Paule Constable – The Light Princess – National Theatre
Grant Anderson – The Addams Family – Assembly Hall (Edinburgh)

Best Long-Running Show in the West End
Les Miserables – Queens Theatre
Wicked – Apollo Victoria
Phantom of the Opera – Her Majesty’s Theatre
Matilda – Cambridge Theatre

Best Musical Direction (Fringe or regional)
George Dyer – Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse
John Donovan – Singin’ In The Rain – UK Tour
Ben Atkinson – Chicago – Leicester Curve
Zach Flis/Joanne Ho – The Addams Family – Assembly Hall (Edinburgh)

Best Musical Direction (West End)
Alfonso Casado Trigo – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Richard John – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Savoy
Martin Lowe – The Light Princess – National Theatre
Alan Williams – Urinetown – St. James Theatre

Best New Musical in the West End
Urinetown – St James Theatre
I Can’t Sing! – London Palladium
The Light Princess – National Theatre
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Savoy Theatre

Best New Play
Shakespeare In Love – Noel Coward Theatre
Let the Right One In – Apollo
1984 – Headlong/Almeida / Playhouse Theatre
Great Britain – National Theatre

Best New Production of a Musical (Fringe/Regions)
20th Century Boy – UK tour
Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse
Happy Days – UK tour
Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead Theatre

Best Performance in a Long-Running West End show
Carrie Hope Fletcher – Les Miserables – Queens Theatre
Gavin Creel – The Book of Mormon – Prince of Wales
Willemjin Verkaik – Wicked – Apollo Victoria Theatre
Rebecca Lock – Mamma Mia – Novello

Best Scenic Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Totie Driver, Matt Kinley & Adrian Vaux – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Soutra Gilmour – Richard III – Trafalgar Studios
Soutra Gilmour – Urinetown – St James Theatre
Rae Smith – The Light Princess – National Theatre

Best Sound Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Mick Potter – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Richard Hammarton – The Crucible – The Old Vic
Terry Jardine/Nick Lidster – Urinetown – St James Theatre
Tom Gibbons – 1984 – Headlong/Almeida/ Playhouse Theatre

Theatrical Event of the Year
West End Live – Trafalgar Square
50 Years on Stage (National Theatre) – Various Theatres
Les Mis V Phantom Charity Football Match – Bromley FC
Kerry Ellis’s return to Wicked – Apollo Victoria

Theatrical Venue of the Year
Southwark Playhouse
Donmar Warehouse
Leicester Curve Theatre
Edinburgh Playhouse

Understudy of the Year in any production of a Play or Musical
Carolyn Maitland – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
Marc Antolin – From Here to Eternity – Shaftesbury
Emma Hatton – Wicked – Apollo Victoria theatre
Niall Sheehy – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre